Humor itself is the first problem and had best be faced bluntly. First and last, humor is that form of life and literature which cannot be taken seriously. Whatever the sense of humor is, the non-sense of it is making it serious. Yet making it serious is the preoccupation of most critics—so much so that they evade the reality of humor wherever they confront it by means of shifty prepositional displacement, positing a prior reality "behind," "beneath," "beyond," or "above" the humorous surface.
My title should be explained. I wish to approach Hawthorne's masterpiece through "The Old Manse" and "The Custom House," the two great prefaces he wrote. In those prefaces, the one composed by way of introduction to "Mosses from an Old Manse" (1846) [...]